Alabama has, after nearly three decades, lifted the ban on teaching yoga in public schools.
Alabama has lifted a three-decade-long ban on allowing yoga to be taught in its public schools – though the word “namaste” and chanting “om” will still be barred in classrooms.
Governor Kay Ivey, a Republican, signed a bill which overrides the state’s 1993 ban on yoga instruction and allows local school boards to decide whether students can be taught the ancient practice.
Some conservative Christian groups fought to retain the ban, arguing that allowing yoga in the classroom could result in children converting to Hinduism.
The final legislation was amended to include a regulation that parents must sign a permission slip for students to practice yoga.
Another amendment said: “School personnel may not use any techniques that involve hypnosis, the induction of a dissociative mental state, guided imagery, meditation, or any aspect of eastern philosophy and religious training.”
‘Namaste’ is just a form of greeting, a more respectful form of ‘hello’ that is from Sanskrit and means ‘I bow to you’ and is uttered with a slight bow when meeting someone. While ‘om’ is now used in chants in secular meditation practices, its origins do lie in Asian religions . The use of ‘om’ is now so widespread (and the word is so easy to make puns with) that it is often the source of humor.
I cannot see courts upholding the ban on saying words like ‘namaste’ and ‘om’ unless it is ruled that they are religious words. Even with ‘om’. the courts may rule that it has long since been stripped of its original religious meaning and is now just a word and thus exempt from the Establishment Clause. That is similar to the reasoning the US Supreme Court used in deciding that “In God We Trust” on US currency did not violate the Establishment Clause. I have not been able to find out if the ban on using these words has been challenged in court.
Apart from the legal issues, I find it extraordinary how the beliefs of some devout Christians are so fragile that just doing yoga and saying some words can undermine them.